With summer arriving in full force this month, the inshore waters up and down the coast of both Carolinas can get a little crowded with vacationers, weekend anglers and pleasure boaters. Likewise, the consistent inshore bite just a few weeks ago has begun to diminish as water temperatures have risen.
If you’re having trouble deciding where to wet a line, the nearshore waters from just a few hundred yards out to several miles off the beach offer a buffet line of bottom-dwellers, mid-level cruisers and surface feeders from which to choose.
Step into any bait shop anywhere along the coast and pick up a local topographic map of shipwrecks or artificial reefs. Known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” the nearshore waters of North Carolina have enough wrecks to keep a bottom-fishing angler occupied for a lifetime. Likewise, what South Carolina may lack in “natural wrecks” is more than made up for with artificial wrecks and reefs established by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the fish specials you’ll most-likely run into this month just a short trip off the beach.
• Black sea bass. Considered by many anglers one of the most-prolific nearshore bottom-feeders, they are often so numerous that anglers may start to consider them a nuisance.
Black sea bass will hit a number of cut baits, including squid, shrimp, cigar minnows or other thumb-sized pieces of fish. The classic rig is a double-hook bottom rig with enough weight to stay in contact with the bottom and two droppers tied in heavy 50- to 70-pound mono spaced a couple of feet apart.
According to guide John Koonce of Charleston, S.C., “If you want to add a little more excitement to bottom-fishing, try using 2-ounce bucktail jig and bounce that on the bottom. You can tip it with a piece of squid. It lets you fish on the bottom as well as target anything else that swims by on it’s way up and down to the bottom.”
• Spanish mackerel. By June, Spanish mackerel will have infested the nearshore waters in both Carolinas, and some of the best places to locate these roving packs of chrome rockets with teeth is around nearshore wrecks and reefs. Standard artificial and live-bait tactics work well when Spanish are congregated over the tops of structure, however, Koonce said that trolling spoons on the outskirts is a great way to locate them.
“A lot of those artificial reefs have pieces that might be as much as a half-mile from the main reef,” he said. “I like to throw out a couple of trolling spoons, like a Clark Spoon or a Diamond Jig and troll around and between those pieces. You can pick up a lot of fish that way, especially if there’s a lot of fishing pressure on the main reef.”
• Triggerfish. These tightly schooling saltwater panfish are more-frequently found in North Carolina waters early in the summer, but they will range into South Carolina waters later in the year. Triggers are a very curious fish that can often be worked to the surface in a feeding frenzy.
Devin Cage, who runs the Poacher out of North Carolina’s Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, said these fish are very reliable during the summer.
“Structure is the only place you’ll find triggers,” Cage said. “They start to show up around Oregon Inlet by late May and stay here until October. They really come on strong during the summer, and a lot of my customers really like them because they fight hard, they’re fairly easy to catch and they’re great on the table.”
Once the fish start biting, slowly reeling hooked fish to the boat or leaving a hooked fish at the surface is a great way to bring the whole school up.
• Spadefish. Another favorite saltwater panfish is spadefish. Like triggers, spades will rarely be found away from structure and likewise can be teased to the surface when the feeding frenzy sets in. They rarely take conventional bottom baits like squid or shrimp but are suckers for pieces of cut jellyfish. Koonce uses a chum rig to get spades active.
“I’ll scoop up about 10 jelly balls, those round jellyfish you see floating everywhere in the summer,” he said. “I string about five of them on a straight piece of coat hanger tied off to 100-pound mono. Tie that on a big rod and leave it down near the reef. You’ll see that rod shaking when the spadefish start hitting the jelly balls, and then you can send down pieces of cut bait on a hook.”
Koonce will cut the outer shell of the non-stinging jelly ball into small triangular pieces. He’ll slowly work the chum rod to the surface and sight cast the hooked baits to the fish.
“Spadefish will grab that bait and head straight for the bottom,” he said. “Its an awesome fight on light tackle.”
• Amberjack. No nearshore trip would be complete without tangling with a couple of reef donkeys. Amberjacks are abundant on submerged wrecks and reefs off the coast of both Carolinas. Many anglers have had the thrill of a small grunt coming to the surface suddenly tear away after it was eaten by an amberjack.
“You’re a fool to go amberjack fishing without live bait,” Cage said. “Amberjacks are curious fish, and many times, I’ll be motoring over a wreck looking for them on the graph and my mate will spot them on the surface right behind the boat.
“Topwater plugs will work in that situation if you are the first or only boat on that wreck. Once you get one hooked up, you can often keep the school on top for a long time. But it’s still fishing, and they aren’t always so cooperative, so I make sure we have some live bait before we go.”